Open Carry Bill Fires Through Florida House Criminal Justice Subcommittee
By Allison Nielson // October 7, 2015
TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA (SunshineStateNews.com) – A bill to allow Floridians to openly carry their weapons in public passed its first committee hearing Tuesday, sailing through the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee by an 8-4 vote.
The legislation is a father-son effort from Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, and Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. If the bills become law, Floridians with concealed weapons permits would be allowed to “openly carry” their firearms.
The law would only apply to concealed weapons permit holders.
“Someone who wouldn’t be eligible to get a concealed permit would also not be eligible to open carry,” Matt Gaetz explained to the committee.
Anyone who willfully infringed on concealed weapons permit holders’ right to openly carry would face a $5,000 fine. Government entities who try to infringe upon the open carry rule could face an even higher penalty, $100,000.
If the Gaetzes’ bills pass, Florida would join many other states allowing open carry in the U.S. As of Aug., 31 states across the country do not require a permit to openly carry a weapon. A higher number — 44 states — currently allow open carry.
Few states have an outright ban on the practice — California, Florida, Illinois, New York, South Carolina and Texas all ban the practice.
When asked how Florida would keep guns out of the hands of those with mental health issues, Rep. Gaetz said he felt confident that Florida could.
“I think as we improve our mental health infrastructure in Florida, it only leads to safer streets,” said Gaetz.
“I know in the media, when we talk about firearms, there is a desire to sensationalize the conflict.”
Gaetz also said those with mental health issues would always have the opportunity to get a hold of firearms, regardless of safeguards put in place.
“Where we have folks who are mentally ill or ill-intentioned…there will always be an opportunity for the bad guys to have firearms,” he said. “The question becomes whether we want to constrain the right of law abiding citizens.”
Debbie Harrison Rumberger of the League of Women Voters of Florida said the bill is a bad idea for Floridians.
“We believe that this bill is a threat to public safety,” she told the committee, urging members to vote against the legislation.
Some legislators, too, expressed concerns over the consequences of passing the bill.
“If you think for a second that because you have a concealed-weapon permit that you are capable and knowledgeable about maintaining your weapon in a fight, you are wrong,” said Rep. David Kerner, D-Lake Worth.
“This is a strikingly and frightening concept to have an open-carry policy in the state of Florida without any mention of how to safely protect and maintain your weapon. It’s unconscionable.”
Despite widespread support among gun rights groups across the state, open carry hasn’t become legal in Florida in part due to backlash from groups like the Florida Sheriffs Association.
But pro-gun groups have already put open carry as one of their top priorities for this year’s legislative session. The National Rifle Association has already backed the bill, as has Florida Carry.
The senior Gaetz already introduced the Senate companion bill, but it has not been given a committee hearing date.